URBS 230—Community Leadership and Service Learning

Writing Groups


This course fulfills a general education requirement that you take a writing intensive class. This means that you will be doing a lot of writing in this class; even more importantly, it means that you will be doing a lot of re-writing in this class. For most of us, the most difficult part of writing (a famous sports writer once said, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter…and open a vein”) is to understand what we can’t know—What does my audience need to know? What can I presume they already know? How are they interpreting what I am writing? The only way to develop an ear for the invisible and inscrutable audience is to edit your writing. The first time you write it is for yourself; you are struggling to get your ideas out on paper. Once that is done, then you can go back and revise those ideas and expand the audience beyond the circle of one. To this point, you have probably written for an audience of two—yourself and the teacher. In this class, you will practice writing to your classmates. Over time and with practice, you may hope to internalize those voices and perhaps someday be able to edit yourself (but even TS Eliot and Ernest Hemingway took the advice of their editors).


To begin with, there are several sources that might help you with your writing.

  • I have a brief description of the essay that I share with all my classes.
  • The Writing Center at Del Mar College has a longer piece on Building the Essay
  • I have outlined Wayne Minnick’s The Art of Persuasion, a book on rhetorical devices in writing.

You should review these, and then refer back to them as needed throughout the course.


For this course, you will form a Writing Group who will respond to your writing (and you will respond to theirs) There will be 3-4 people in each group. You may self-select the members using whatever criteria you wish (maybe based on the Free Write assignment that they post, maybe you have a friend who is also in the class….) In any event, by the second week of class your group must send me an e-mail with the name of its members. I will then construct a “group identity” for you in D2L, so you can post your drafts and your comments to each other.


You will submit your essays to your group under the “Writing Groups” section under “Discussion” on D2L. Then your group members will read and respond to your essay (It is easiest to use “Track Changes” in Word and enter comments right into the draft.) and post their responses back to the “Writing Groups” board (You need to post your responses to the “Writing Groups” board so I can track your feedback to the group and assign points for it.) You will then rewrite your essay and post it by the assigned date to the “Assignments” section under “Discussion” on D2L (which means you must send your initial draft to your writing group with enough lead time for them to comment, return it to you, and for you to rewrite; I would suggest at least a week’s lead time). I will comment and grade your final version, but I will also look at the comments and the initial draft.


So, for every writing assignment in this course you will

  • Write your essay
  • Send the file to your writing group for comment
  • Post comments on your Writing Group members’ essays
  • Revise your essay
  • Post the final version to the “Assignments” section of the Discussion Board.


When you are reviewing your classmates’ essays, you should use the 3-part “Writing Rubric” to shape your comments. The rubric addresses the three writing standards of organization, evidence, and skill and provides benchmarks for the various levels of performance on each standard. I also have a simple response form (you can copy and paste it into the end of the essay to which you are responding, if you wish). When you respond to your classmates’ writing, it is not enough to say “Good organization.” You must cite examples from the text (or mark up the text, so your comments at the end are a summary of what you have written in the body of the essay). Here are some additional thoughts on the standards:

1)      Are the ideas well-organized?

a.       Direction mapped from the beginning

b.      Ideas following in logical sequence

c.       Evidence presented for & against each idea

d.      Conclusions follow from the positions taken earlier in the paper

2)      Is evidence offered in support (and counter-evidence against) the ideas being developed?

a.       Observations

b.      Quotations

c.       References to other work

3)      Is the paper clear/easy to read?

a.       Identifies and engages the “interested reader” (audience)

b.      Free of typos & spelling errors

c.       Appropriate grammar


I know it will be tempting to put minimal effort into responding to your classmates’ writing. After all, it is uncomfortable to “rip” on a peer. And you don’t really want them ripping on you—if your writing is at all authentic (if you are really grappling with a question that is important to you, rather than “phoning in” something safe—and boring and shallow and generic), you will be taking a risk and exposing your self, and it hurts when someone says it’s not good enough (Can you tell that I’ve been there, too? I still am—it’s hard to submit my stuff to editors and get it back all marked up—or worse, to get it back with no mark-up and a polite “thank you for your submission but….”). Don’t give in to the temptation! There are a number of good reasons for working as hard at responding to your classmates as you work on your own essays.

  • First, good writing comes from practice, but it also comes from reading critically. But usually we read pieces that are polished until they shine—reading work in progress actually makes it easier to analyze what works and what doesn’t, and to learn thereby. Puzzling out why something didn’t work in someone else’s writing will help you better craft your own writing.
  • Second, you are paying forward. You want good feedback on your writing—however painful it is to receive it. Writing is a process of taking what is inside your head and turning it outwards so others can see it and understand it. No one completely anticipates what the audience needs for doing that. We all have associations and shorthand that we use in our heads; an editor helps us figure out which of those need to be explained. If you want to receive good feedback from your classmates, you owe good feedback to them.
  • Third, editorial feedback does not have to be a destructive process; it can be very constructive as you work together to give birth (well, the editor is only a midwife in the process, but you get the idea) to some expression that is good or true or beautiful.



2002 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 14 May 2010